Archive for the 'Mortality' Category

Sugar Bowl Past

For my parent’s 25th Wedding Anniversary (their “silver”) I decided to make them a solid sterling sugar bowl. I’d been taking silversmithing classes for a few years, and thought I was ready by my penultimate college semester. The process started with a few days sketching (often during Systems Science or archaeology class). Then I borrowed a car and went out to a precious metals foundry and bought the biggest piece of silver I’d ever acquired. It was a full square foot of 20 gage sheet metal in sterling. Plus a foot of quarter inch square bar. Silver was still slowly recovering from the Hunt Brothers, so it cost nearly a month’s rent. This was a big bite for me.

To begin the weeks of part time (art studio hours) smithing, I had to anneal and then face my big, flat, still-returnable sheet of metal. I held it in one hand on a stake, the five pound hammer raised up to my shoulder. I hesitated for the decisive moment.

Then I did smite it: “Bam!” No longer returnable. Oh well, onward…

Silver sugar bowl and spoon on copper standThis went on into fall finals, while I was taking a 21 hour course load to finish an engineering degree at a fairly high end university. The whole process was actual smithing: Pure hammer work, both cold forging and shell forming. Not a cast to be poured.  I turned in the finished object as my final project in silversmithing class.

My parent’s anniversary is between the winter solstice and the end of the calendar year (to make it harder for hackers to guess at security questions). I also made a batch of cookies, with a chocolate “25” embedded in a pale orange roll, so each sliced cookie had the number. It was my first attempt at such an embedded pattern two-tone cookie, so the shapes and sizes were a bit variable. But readable and tasty.

Anyway, the morning of their anniversary, I walked the snowy mile from my apartment to their house (convenient in-town college) carrying the cookies and artwork in my ratty backpack. They were not expecting me, nor my presents. After greetings and salutations, I pulled out the cookies and presented them on a silver-Mylar platter, and let them get past the initial “clever boy” sounds that always seemed so much to me like when a kindergarten presents a finger painting.

Then I pulled out the sugar bowl. Sure it’s weird. They didn’t know what to say. I think they appreciated the gesture. I suspect my father appreciated the form, and my mother the execution.

But as my own 25th wedding anniversary is imminent, this seemed an appropriate Object at Hand to share. I pulled it from the depths of a cabinet (where I stashed it after my last parent died almost a decade ago), dusted it, polished it up, and snapped some pictures on the kitchen counter using just natural light.

Several images of it below. The base is copper that I rolled into slightly tapering tubes from flat sheet metal. The black coating is copper sulfide (via liver of sulfur) then varnished. The pads are little bits of ebony wood. The spoon is hammered from a 1/4″ square bar of sterling, a process that I find soothing. I did not try to hide the reflected clutter, camera, or my face.

Click on a picture to see it larger.

Silver sugar bowl and spoon on copper stand

Not a peeling

I made a little kitchen mistake the other day. Mein Frau and I were making a salad. My “job” was just to make carrot shavings with my new, fancy vegetable peeler. That is today’s Object at Hand.

I tried it on the top and the side of the carrot. But what worked best was using it below the carrot, so the peels dropped neatly into the bowl. But then I looked away for a second, probably to say something. I don’t really remember.

Sudden, sharp pain on the tip of my thumb! I pulled it away, and watched the newly corrugated corner of my thumb gloss over in red. I grabbed a tissue to staunch, and quickly left the room. You see, spousal is squeamish. I got a band-aid and applied it, and then returned to look for the missing piece of thumb. Just a chip of skin, mind you, shy of a centimeter across, and maybe 3mm thick at the center.

I found said remainder, and noted with my usual childish wonder, how the straight furrows on one side contrasted with the swirls on the other.


But my band-aid floweth over. And I considered that I had a reasonably well fitted patch for my now bare and exposed inner dermis. So I peeled off the soggy bandage, and slapped the chip over the divot. I tried to align the grooves, but I was hurrying, and reasonably confident that I would not get the orphaned structure to reunite. So quick trumped accurate.

Oddly, it started hurting less as soon as the skin covered the raw area. A fingertip band-aid (our last on hand) covered it and held it in place.

The next day, I had to consider how to bathe. We had no large finger-cots, nor convenient disposable gloves on had. So what did I find to put on my had? One of the 2×4″ bags that I use to hold some of the small items that MrTitanium sells.

After bathing, I took an “after” picture to show the crudely stuck-on bit of skin now protecting the sensitive area. I figure that it will probably come off in a few days, as new skin comes in from below.


Circumventing Darwin

I picked up a free flashlight from a cheap tool import shop. This handy, hand held Object at Hand is a flashlight, with a  warning label. 😀

To prevent serious Injury:

  1. Wear ANSI-approved safety goggles during use.
  2. People with pacemakers should consult their physican(s) before use. Electromagnetic fields in close
    proximity to heart pacemaker could cause pacemaker interference or pacemaker failure.
  3. Position batteries in Proper polarity and do not install batteries of different types, charge levels, or capacities together
  4. The brass components of this product contain lead a Chemical known to the State of California
    to cause cancer and and birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Let’s set aside that I went to Harbor Freight; I do know the quality of their tools. I’ve been mail ordering from them since they only had an outlet in California, over a decade before the Web.

But here we have a hand held flashlight that uses significantly less power than the old EverReady flashlights that we got for free with a two-pack of “D” batteries back when I was a kid. I’m old enough to have gotten the ribbed metal flashlights, before the orange plastic. Those rusted away when a battery leaked.

But the point is not about the flashlight, but about the silly warning label. Sure, I’ve seen the toaster oven warning not to use it in the tub. But these warnings are even more absurd:

Let’s begin with, safety goggles to use a flashlight? Really? This is not a laser pointer, nor does it have the capability to explode. The alkaline batteries that one would find in here cannot be made to explode unless you throw them in a pretty hot fire. Maybe the flexible plastic hook that swings out from the back could do eye damage during roughhousing?

Pacemakers? Granted, they probably use a switching power supply to boost the voltage for the LED matrix. That is, this device probably does produce a barely detectable electromagnetic field. Probably orders of magnitude less powerful than a cell phone. But technically it does produce some radio noise, and by law that means it must need a warning. I suppose.

Then there are several warnings about how to use batteries that I would have thought most kids old enough to read would already know. But what they don’t tell you is, What Kind of Batteries does it need?

And finally, because of California, a warning about the minute trace of lead one finds in brass. Brass is the group of copper alloys with 55-75% copper with most of the rest being zinc. As with any metal outside of the semi-conductor industry, it will have small traces of other elements, including lead. The (WAG) gram of brass in this flashlight would have up to about 0.004 grams of lead. (Here’s an actual analysis of some unspecified brass alloy). But that trace of lead is in there because the extreme chemical processes used to purify the copper and zinc were unable to get the lead out. What are the odds that anything you could do would extract any measurable amount of it?

IMHO, this warning label is somewhere between specious and laughable. Yet apparently required by law in California. Good luck to those members of our species who may need it.

Lucky Letter Opener

Today’s object gets a nod because of a recent unintended doubly-off-label usage. A few years ago I ordered some furnace igniters online. Within the package, they had included this promotional wine bottle opener, today’s Object at Hand.

Bottle Opener

Wine and furnace repair seemed an odd non-sequitur, but I found a use for it: This bottle opener has sat on my counter as a fine and efficient  letter opener for years.

But a few weeks ago, I knocked it off the counter and it stuck vertically into the wooden floor right by my foot. You can picture the sound of it quivering there. I felt lucky that it had missed my foot. The same physics of angular momentum that causes toast to land butter side down gives this device good odds of sticking the floor.

Then a few days ago, I was setting a package on the counter in the dark and I heard a “thunk,” and felt a pain in my toe. I looked down. The letter opener lay innocently on the floor next to it. There was a small red spot, growing larger, near the center front of my sock. Yeah, in the winter I wear socks in the house.

I pulled off the sock, and noticed that the blood was coming from the middle of my medial toenail. I soaked up a few minutes of bleeding with tissues, then put on a band-aid. My coagulation is good; it stopped bleeding in minutes.

Here is what it looks like a few days later; pretty neat as punctures go. Not the best of pedicures, either.

Owie toe

This reminds me, I’m due for a TDaP, or DTaP, or whatever they are calling the standard 10 year vaccination nowadays.

Letting Code Go

FolkFireCalendarI have written about letting go of old industrial code in the past. But today I have decided that it is time to discard a vestigial part of my first website, something where the code is still in use. Barely. Today’s Object at Hand is the old FolkFire calendar.

I started writing the FolkFire web site in early 1995, using my $25 copy of Netscape Navigator 2.0, and writing my code in Notepad for the proposed HTML 2.0 standard. I bought a book on HTML and taught myself as I coded. I had to manually install a TCPIP socket (“winsock”) on my DOS/Windows 3.11 machine in order to connect even to my local server. Sorry about the “Back when I was a kid…”

In 1996 I added an events calendar, written in Perl using another book to learn as I went. This was back before Google, before Yahoo, and before local newspapers, TV stations, etc. had sites with calendars of events. We consolidated events from all over the region, to make it easier for both people and groups to do their planning.

Over the next few years, this calendar evolved a bit. I put in hundreds of volunteer hours just for the calendar. By Y2K it was pretty much in its current format (click on the image to see it as it was, via the Wayback Machine Web Archive). It leveled off at about 1,200 lines of original code, because I am always careful to remove what is no longer needed. Sometimes adding a feature resulted in shorter code.

But since the millennium I have been trying to divest myself of this web site. There has been a Help Wanted banner on the FolkFire home page for 13 years!

Then I noticed that for the last several years, no one even submits events to our calendar any more. Long ago I lost the eager drive to chase after groups and beg them for their information so that we can give them free promotion. So it is time to put this piece of my history to bed. If a FolkFire calendar is to rise again, whoever does it can use the Google calendar engine.

Back Up Again

Safe BackupNo, I did not have another computer crash, as I had reported in Surviving the Blue Screen of Death a couple of years ago. However, one theme of that post was the importance of having a good backup off premises. Today, I stopped by the bank to pull my offsite complete (but aged) hard drive copy from safe deposit, slip it in my back pocket, and bike back home so that I can clone my drive afresh.

So the Object At Hand today is actually the key to safe deposit storage rather than the pocket sized terabyte container of my whole computer’s soul.

USBDriveI do copy my personal data files, like pictures, videos, email boxes, web site files, and so on to a local external, isolated hard drive every few days using a USB adapter that is only powered up to do the backup, and then shut down again. This saves energy, and makes it immune to power surges up to lightning strikes.

This is fine to protect against power surges, viruses, or disk crashes. But a thorough burglary or fire would lose me this copy. Also, as described in my BSD article, a full clone gets you up and running ever so much faster than having to reload your O/S and all your software manually.

Cloning configurationSo tonight I will open up my tower (that is commonly erroneously called a “CPU” [which is actually the processor chip behind the fan], or the “hard drive” [which is the thing I’m working with at the bottom connected by wires], or even [for reasons I don’t apprehend] the “modem”), connect the hard drive to a second SATA port, boot to a CD with cloning software. I downloaded free EaseUS Disk Copy, but a techie friend prefers Clonezilla.  It runs overnight, as a terabyte (1,000,000,000,000 bytes) takes a while to copy even at direct SATA bus speeds. Tomorrow I can take an up to date version of my whole system back to the bank where it will survive anything but direct megaton hits.

At the core of the issue, the object is peace of mind.

Presbyopia is a Pain in the Neck

At the age of fifty-one my eyesight is still 20/20. As long as you stay at least four feet away. To see closer than that, I have been stashing reading glasses everywhere, and even carrying them with me, as I mention in Outta Sight. But I finally have given in and decided that it is time to invest in bifocals, today’s Object at Hand.

Stylin’ the Progressive lenses for my Droid cam

I decided to go directly to the lineless style, not because of vanity, but because this gives me a range of focal distances. Little did I know what a trip this journey into glasses-land would be. When I first put them on, I did expect the world to get a bit absurd. Things seemed to swoop around me to the sides. But I trusted that my mind would figure out how to deal with this in a few days of continuous wear. I danced that night, enjoying the extra dizziness and in a woozy sort of way. And also the next dance that weekend.

I was thrilled that I could actually read my phone, my little Droid. It was nice to be able to focus on the faces of the women in my arms and still be able to see the room swirling around us. But as the first few days passed, my giddy sense of discovery waned. I became very aware of how blurry most of my field of view has become. I can only see about a 20 degree cone of sharpness, from the horizon up, and ten degrees to the left and right. I have to move my head around instead of just shifting my eyes. To see my feet, I have to press my chin to my chest. So now I have quite a sore neck.

I also have to sweep my head from side to side and up and down to read a magazine or my main computer screen. Even a paperback page blurs toward the edges. I realize that eventually my mind will learn that I can still read those fuzzy edges, and will stop insisting on wagging my head.

How bad is it? Here are views of graph paper and my garden, so you can see how weird my world now looks:

After two weeks, my eyes still tire early, but my neck is stronger.

Certain experiences were notably weird:

  • The first dance in a crowded room
  • The first bike ride
  • Walking through an aisle in a store
  • Walking down stairs
  • Driving at night (internal reflections in the lenses)
  • Gardening, as my sweat drips into my lenses, and sprinklers spot them on the outside.

I also still have not shaken the habit of taking my glasses off after reading or using the computer. On! I tell myself, “Glasses now are kept on my nose.”


AARP, gulp.

A little while back I discussed my reaching Half a Century old in terms of my early papers, and some of the changes to our world in my lifetime. But the Object at Hand today is my legitimately obtained copy of AARP magazine.

A Typical AARP Reader?

I had tossed it aside and apparently my housemate Friedrich picked it up. Now, this seemed eerily evocative of the way youngsters (such as I still feel myself to be) perceive people who read this magazine.

The word “Retired” comprises the ahr  in their acronym. But most people at the AARP age minimum are nowhere near retired. Especially in the early 21st century economy when an American household apparently needs two wage earners till they are seventy to meet basic expenses.

So AARP reaches out to those who are of an age to barely see the light of retirement at the end of the tunnel of their useful life. That is a mere dozen years before one currently can start reclaiming some of his Social Security money. So AARP provides articles on planning for retirement, and investment advice, and more such for we wee ones.

As for me, among those abruptly dropped from the ranks of the median family income earners back when the tech bubble burst, I cannot decide whether I am semi-employed, or semi-retired.

Perhaps I will be able to make that determination before I look like old Friedrich here.

Unsafe Safety Signs

I am a regular bicyclist. I ride to stores, to doctor appointments, to social meetings, and to pretty much any other short commute in clement weather that doesn’t require carrying more than half my weight or volume in cargo. So it generally lightens my heart to see the increasing frequency of bicycle reminders on or around roadways. This bit of road paint, today’s Object at Hand, is on the street near my house.

But the more of these signs I see, the more I am realizing how they actually pose a threat to bikers.

Why? The problem is in the way our minds work. For those who haven’t studied psychology and perception, or neurology, nor read geeky mainstream books such as “Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention“, let me present a couple of things have been proven, that you can research for yourself later:

  • At the primitive levels of our mind, we can only see what we have learned to see.
  • Dissimilar images that evoke a shared idea require more cognitional effort to relate than do similar images. For example, it takes a slower and higher part of the brain to associate the relationship between a penny and a twenty than to recognize two different coins both as valuta.

Given these points, can you see the problem? How about if I show you the driver’s perspective of a bicyclist?

Do you see it, now? This is what almost every bicyclist looks like to a driver. Bikers of both motorized and pedaled two wheelers are always complaining that cars don’t see them.

The problem is that drivers are always shown a particular image of what to expect, and it bears no resemblance to what a bicyclist looks like. It is this basic cognitive problem rather than the relative narrowness of two wheeled vehicles that poses the greatest threat to us. But almost every bicycle warning sign uses the same basic profile image, repeatedly retraining drivers in what to look out for. Here is a sampling from around the world.

Try Googling for bicycle signs, yourself! One motorcyclist friend who has repeatedly been reminded how invisible we are even wears a special shirt to try to draw attention to his invisible presence:

I would like to get a campaign going to make bicycling safer by deploying and requiring signs to look more like this crude mock-up I created. Note how much more like an actual bicyclist it looks, and think about what it tells you to look out for.

For comparison, what sign seems a better warning/reminder of what to look for?

Melanoma: Know More

A couple of weeks ago, I got a diagnosis of melanoma, and posted Melanoma is Sneaky over at Dangerous Intersection. Go there to see a nice video exhorting regular skin check-ups.

I considered several “objects” on which to hang this post. My first thought was of surgical tools or the fancy high-tech, waterproof, breathable membrane bandage that covered the wound for a few days. But I chose to showcase the memento I will forever carry around with me, the scar where the tumor was removed.

But before I show you the image of this silly badge, here’s how my day of surgery went:

Karen talked me out of walking to surgery as we had walked to the preoperative visit. So we drove the few blocks to the hospital and parked there in about half the time walking took. We finally found the right elevator and went up to the third floor to the ambulatory surgery unit. There was no one at the reception desk, but as we proceeded past toward the nurses station, we hear a “Be right there!” A very swishy man bustled over and cheerfully took my detailed information. He was fun and flirtatious. He passed me to another nurse, who weighed me, and brought me to curtained cubicle #12 on the end of the hall.

I changed into the paper gown, keeping on my shorts and socks as instructed. The gown had many fasteners and ports. I figured out that one wall mounted gadget was a hair dryer-ish gizmo with a hose that could be plugged into one of the several ports built into this disposable gown for warming. Karen went for coffee as I settled into the comfy recliner between layers of pre-warmed blankets. I handled my anxiety at impending surgical assault by falling into a zen-like trance. I happily observed the various light fixtures and gadgets in my cubicle, and the curtain fabrics and hardware. I listened to the layered conversations invisible around me, mapping the people in my visual cortex. I had an hour and a half to wait, and was in no hurry. Karen came back with coffee and occasionally got impatient and fetched nurses to move along the stages of my prep. She has always been a good patient advocate, and has even considered doing that for a living.

Several nurses came in to ask pages of questions that had already been answered. Each department seems to need its own set of answers to the same suite of questions. It’s a pity that medical histories cannot travel with patients from practitioner to practitioner. I find filling out these forms not only tedious, but an insult to the computing technology that could have replaced such iteration a generation ago. I also blame the HIPAA act that seems to do all it can to inhibit the portability of medical information that it was supposed to enhance.

One nurse gave me a set of packaged, heated, antiseptic sponges with a page of detailed instructions on how to use them. Three minutes scrubbing with each and in a particular order on specific areas from neck to toes. I thought this was a silly step. But I had been forewarned by phone the previous night that it was to be done. Afterwards, my hands felt quite sticky and softened.

The surgeon was ready for me while the third iteration of questions was still being administered. They had brought a gurney, but then decided to just wheel me in the throne. I commented that I should have had a crown and scepter to be so royally escorted to the operating room. I did wave to the peons as I was wheeled past. I was having a good time, and as far as I knew  had yet to receive any drugs aside from the antibiotic in my neutral saline IV.

Once in the operating room, I stepped from my throne over to the narrow operating table starkly lit under the triple set of suspended and jointed reflector lights, one with a camera built in. The nurses and resident seemed to be a cheerful team. I tried not to distract them, but wanted to join in. When the first set up an arm table to the side, I pointed out that this would not work. They seemed surprised at my effrontery. But then they saw I was right and rearranged me to have my arm on my belly. I seemed to puzzle them a bit, as I was completely cooperative, alert, cheerful, and knowledgeable. Yes, I was aware of compensating for anxiety; I began studying psychology in 8th grade, got a degree in it, and have been studying related fields ever since.

They gave me a nasal cannula and draped me with green crinkly paper sheets. When they first smoothed it across my face, I suggested that my nose was actually supposed to be convex. After that a hand appeared in my green world occasionally to lift the paper from my nose. But it wasn’t bothering me. I’m not claustrophobic, and was getting cool oxygen in my nose. They started the Lidocaine drip without my noticing. But I quickly got more relaxed.

When the surgeon, Eddy Hsueh, came in, he told me that they were now going to give me the sedative, a truth serum. (Precedex, I believe.) He said that now I would have no secrets.

I said, “I’m on FaceBook; I have no secrets!”

Best laugh of the session. They chuckled and repeated it to each other. One of the nurses later repeated it to Karen when she wheeled me back.

I distinctly felt the first couple of shots of local anesthetic in my arm. I don’t think that I actually passed out at any point, but things were fuzzy while he cut out the initial disk of skin. I tried to “see” from under my green sheet by listening carefully. At one point the tone of the heart monitor seemed to change. I asked about it, and they assured me that it hadn’t. In retrospect, I think I’d gone under briefly and come back without noticing at that point.

I was quite alert as they (surgeon and resident) started stitching. I could feel the pulling, even the vibration of the gentle texture of the stronger sutures pulling through. Dr. Hsueh is a teacher, and was guiding the resident to close. In this case, closing involved pulling the open circle into a line, and then trimming the puckered “dog ears” on each end to allow a smooth closure. I had assumed that the necessary eye-shaped cut would be the initial profile. But apparently they cut out a circle, and then trim the pointy ends after pulling the circle mostly closed. Hsueh was a harsh critic, a perfectionist, who scolded the resident for cutting the end too round, for pulling with the wrong suture (including a pedantic lecture on the physics of force), and for not having good technique in pushing the needle through the skin. I’d never before heard a grown man chewed out for not doing his homework. I was embarrassed for the doctor. But from their point of view, I wasn’t there. All they saw was an arm and green sheets. Often even when people can see me, I manage to be invisible: I see more, this way.

So they finished suturing and started undraping me before they got the bandage on. I started to get up, and they told me to wait as they put some gauze and a clear adhesive patch covering the whole thing. This oxygen-permeable membrane is certainly new since my last surgery, in the early 1980’s. No cumbersome wrap of bandages was necessary

I stepped easily off the operating table and back to the padded throne, and was wheeled back to the cubicle. Karen was retrieved from the waiting room, and we sat for a while, waiting for discharge. I felt like I was sobering up quickly. But I was certainly hazy, and glad that Karen was there to hear the post surgical directives. My arm didn’t hurt at all; the local was very effective.

When they came in with the discharge papers, I was ready to go. I asked to use the restroom, and they let me. We discussed the necessity of the ceremonial wheelchair as I walked, and pirouetted to walk backwards, and then ducked into the restroom. It is good to have dancer reflexes. But they were adamant about wheeling me out. One nurse rolled me down the hall and elevator, and out to the door while Karen got the car. I grew tired of sitting, and the nurse reluctantly let me stand up. She guarded me like a wary physical therapist as I rose, then stayed close to me as I walked out the door, and waited. When Karen arrived, the nurse escorted my to the car door. She was taking no chances. It was about 2:00 as we drove the mile or so to South Grand.

First we picked up my meds at our local pharmacy: A prophylactic antibiotic and Percoset. I rarely use pain pills, and was feeling fine at the time. But I figured that I might use the latter as a sleep aid, at least the first night. We stopped in next door to the pharmacy to chat with our investment banker, and then walked a block to use a coupon for lunch at Qudoba. I was feeling a little dissociated, but not dizzy, nor in pain. It seemed about as traumatic at that point as getting a large filling in a tooth.

Once home, I settled in front of Roku for the remains of the day. Not a movie, just old TV shows like Ally McBeal and Cheers. We don’t have cable or satellite, so Netflix feeds my video addiction. After a few hours, the local anesthetic wore off, and I began to see the wisdom of pain meds. Each time I’d shift, my arm kersploded with a bright flash of unpleasantness. I did resist the oxycodone till bedtime by holding the arm very still as much as possible. Owy. Only woke a few times in the night.

So now, a few days later, I unveil my new dermal embellishment:

Melanoma: 14 stitches for an odd mole